A haunted manor, a tragic murder, a group of psychic investigators, and a séance to contact the dead. Mysterium is an asynchronous cooperative game where a single player will assume the role of the ghost, contacting the other players exclusively through visions and dreams in the form of highly abstract and exceedingly vague clue cards (like those found in Dixit). Over the course of 8 rounds, the investigators must correctly identify the clues being given to them to help narrow down the true culprit and free the ghost from its earthly torment.
Each player is randomly assigned a suspect, location, and weapon by the ghost at the start of the game, a trio of cards kept hidden from them behind a beautiful fold-out shield that the ghost hides behind. All of the suspects, locations, and weapons are shuffled together, with additional cards of each type added to keep the odds slightly out of their favor, and placed on the table in the appropriate tier. Players will simultaneously begin on the same tier, trying to guess who the potential suspect is based on the clues given by the ghost, and anyone who is correct moves on to the next tier while the rest must stay behind.
Should one or more players reach the final tier before the others, they no longer receive clues from the ghost but are free to participate in the discussion and try to help the other players. Because this is a cooperative game, all players are free to look at and speculate on the clues given to everyone else. This is immensely important, because as the ghost player you are forbidden from giving any type of help outside of the clue cards you hand them. This includes talking, gestures, or even the slightest facial expressions you might make while listening to the other players as they try to get inside your head. Luckily the shield is large enough to duck behind, but it’s tricky nonetheless as someone attempts to explain why one clue matches a specific card based on the way the ghost-player thinks.
Depending on the difficulty of the game chosen at the start (which also alters the amount of character/location/object cards used) the ghost has a number of crow tokens that act as hand refreshers. On Easy difficulty, he may discard one of the crow tokens to refresh any or all cards from his hand, up to the maximum 7. On Medium, you may do this up to 3 times during the whole game, and on Hard, only once during the game. Every time the ghost gives a clue card to a player, he immediately draws back up to 7. The ghost may give as many cards as he wants to each player, including his entire hand, but once a player has received their vision for that turn, they are not allowed to receive any more cards. So it’s in the ghost’s best interest to give as many clues, and as finely-focused ones, as possible, this is because all players have only 8 rounds to correctly guess their trio of suspect/location/weapon before the game ends and everyone loses.
Should everyone successfully match their visions to their cards by the end of the seventh round, then the Shared Vision phase currents. This is an all-or-nothing round, so even if players manage to reach this phase with several rounds to spare, if they fail this then the game is over. At the start of the Shared Vision, all of the suspects, locations, and weapons successfully guessed by each player (which are kept by the investigators in designated little sleeves for safe keeping) are placed face up on the table for everyone to see, keeping them grouped together. In other words, for the red player, all of his cards are kept as a group, with the suspect, location, and weapons close together. Do this for each player as the ghost collects the numbered tokens that represent each investigator in play. On one side is a number, on the other the character’s portrait. Secretly choose one behind the shield, and then choose the corresponding culprit token (designated by a number on one side and a large question mark on the other) and place it on the designated spot on the board with the question mark facing up. This is essentially a way for the ghost to prove that he was telling the truth, as this number must match the number of the other token he chose. Remove the rest from the game.
The ghost must now choose three – and only three – vision cards to correctly represent the group of cards corresponding to the character he has chosen. Each clue must represent a different card: for instance, one card must represent the suspect, one must represent the location, and one must represent the weapon. Shuffle these and place them face up on the table. The other players must now collaboratively discuss which group of cards these clues are pointing at to finally, once and for all, find the true culprit. Each player must vote using their colored intuition tokens on which they believe to be the right group, and the majority is declared as the final answer. If they are correct, all of the players win and the ghost may finally pass on to a better place.
There’s one thing I’ve neglected to mention thus far about Mysterium, because it’s a rule that ultimately seems unnecessary and obfuscates the core purpose of the game. Included in the box are various clairvoyancy tokens assigned to each player. During each round, as the visions are being handed out and players are choosing who or what they believe to be the appropriate card, each player may also choose to use a clairvoyancy token on another player’s pawn. There are two types of clairvoyancy tokens: one bearing a check mark and one bearing an X. Using these, you can guess whether you think another player’s selection is accurate or not. During the reveal step when the ghost informs the players if they have guessed correctly or not, any player who adequately played their clairvoyancy token moves up on a separate track, and this track is used at the end of the game to determine how much information each player is allowed to know before voting during the shared vision phase.
That is, when the final three vision cards are being revealed to the investigators, players who did not pass the first threshold on the track will vote after the first card is revealed; players who reached the second threshold may vote after the second card; and only players who reached the maximum threshold may vote after seeing all three clues. This tends to create unwanted animosity toward other players, and is counter-intuitive to the whole cooperative nature. The game is difficult enough as it is – even on Easy – that purposefully limiting the information that some players will get to see at the end of the game is entirely unnecessary. There is no drastic or consequential difference in playing the game without this rule, except that in my experience it tends to be a lot more fun and more in keeping with the thematic nature of the game.
Mysterium is a game rich with personality and theme, despite most of that not bleeding through into the experience of playing it. The rulebook is exquisitely designed and features a poignant introduction to the haunted manor and the psychic investigators that are being brought in to cleanse it, but none of that really matters once you start playing. Every player is the same, the manor itself is superfluous, and the idea that the players are participating in a séance to contact the spirit inhabiting the manor is over-exaggerated. To get the most out of this game requires each player to give in equal measure. Maybe a little bit of soft, haunting music in the background to set the mood. However you choose to do it, this is most certainly a game that needs the right setting to fully enjoy. Loud, boisterous, or chaotic environments will only dampen the experience and cause unwanted confusion. But in those perfect moments, Mysterium is a huge blast. It’s Dixit meets Clue: a whodunit combined with gorgeous artwork and an subversive cooperative element that makes it less about winning and more about getting inside the ghost’s mind.
Time: 45+ minutes
Set Up/Clean up: Long/Long
Difficulty: MediumComponent Quality: High
Final Verdict: Great